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  • Kat Waskett

The Sewing Method for Cross Stitch; Can it Help you Stitch Faster?

Would you like to be able to cross stitch faster?!

I’m pretty sure I heard you say ‘yes’, so I’m going to share a method of cross stitching that might be able to help you do that…but also why you might not want to!

I'm talking about the sewing method, which you may have heard of or perhaps you already do it!

If you would prefer to watch rather than read (and see the methods in action!) then you can find all the same information in this video >>>

Stitching methods and techniques

I am going to say right up front that I don’t use the sewing method for my cross stitching and you’ll find out why, but first I want to explain how to do it.

I’ve talked in a previous article about the English vs. Danish methods for cross stitch and these refer to whether you make each full cross stitch one at a time (English method), or rows of half cross stitches and then go back along the row to complete the top arms (Danish method).

But you can also use several different techniques to physically make the stitches independent of whether you are working in the English or Danish method.

Stab and stitch

The way that most stitchers learn to make their crosses is with the stab and stitch method, or I’ve also heard it called push and poke.

That’s where you use one hand to hold your hoop or fabric and the other hand to work the needle though the fabric, so your hand is moving from the top of the fabric to underneath the fabric and back again to make each pass (or 'stab') of the needle, hence the name stab and stitch.

One advantage of this method is that you can use it with or without an embroidery hoop.

Step by step pictures showing how to do cross stitch using the stab and stitch technique

*Click on the image to see a larger version

Sewing method

The sewing method also requires you to hold the fabric in one hand and use the other hand to work the needle.

But the difference is that you complete the down and up parts of the stitch at the same time from the front of the fabric. So, you push the needle down through the fabric and simultaneously back up to the front of the fabric all in one motion. Your hand never needs to go to the back of the fabric.

This requires you to be able to bend the fabric slightly which is why you can’t use this method with your fabric in a hoop.

I always stitch in hand so not using a hoop or frame is no problem for me, but if that sounds scary to you then take a look at my article How to cross stitch without a hoop - 7 tips for stitching 'in hand'.

The huge advantage of this method is that because you don't need to keep moving your hand between the front and back of the fabric, and are essentially combining two actions into one, then in theory you can stitch faster.

How to do the sewing method

This method works best when you are stitching rows in the Danish method, making rows of half crosses and then going back along the row to complete the top arms, so that's what I'm showing in these step by step pictures.

Step by step pictures showing how to do cross stitch using the sewing technique

*Click on the image to see a larger version

I've shown this method working from left to right, but of course you can also do it from right to left, and you will find that depending on which direction you work and the exact way you make your crosses e.g. if your top arms slant the other way to mine, then your needle could be pointing up or down as you push it through the fabric.

Everyone will have a slightly different way that feels more natural to them, as with all cross stitch and you will need to test to find the way you like best.

I find that the easiest way to think about transitioning to the sewing method is to follow the exact same process of how you make your crosses usually and then just combine the down and up part.

When I am using the stitch and stab method I prefer to bring my needle up in an empty hole and down in a hole with threads in, as much as I can, but I found that it didn’t matter when using the sewing method.

The reason the sewing method works best with the Danish method is because if you make each full cross stitch one at a time (English method) you will find you can only really do this in one direction. For me I can only go right to left.

If I try to do single full stitches from left to right then the needle would have to be at a really unnatural angle for me; it’s super awkward.

Again, if you make your crosses differently or stitch left handed then you might find you can only easily go from left to right!

One difference when working from opposite directions was that the thread stayed out of my way much more easily when working from right to left so that made it quite a bit quicker for me.

The Victorian method

This is a specific technique for making individual stitches but with the needle working horizontally rather than vertically, and although it can be done with stab and stitch, it lends itself rather better to the sewing method.

Step by step pictures showing how to do cross stitch using the Victorian method

*Click on the image to see a larger version

You will end up working a row all the way in one direction and then have to finish the thread to go back and start another row. Unless you flip your work upside down, and then you can work back in the opposite direction, as a couple of very kind stitchers suggested to me!

It is also the method that uses the most thread and you can see why from the back...

The back of cross stitch done using the Victorian method showing that it uses more thread than any other method

Sewing method in columns

What if you like to stitch in columns though?

I tested this and found that it works really nicely for the English method of making individual full stitches, but I didn’t find it very good for the Danish method as the stitches looked less neat and it was harder to do.

Again, if you stitch in columns then it's worth just testing it to see if it works for you or not.

A word of caution!

One thing I would personally try to avoid is mixing things up too much and using multiple different techniques and methods within a single piece of cross stitch. The more you pull your thread in different directions on the back of your work the more your stitches can look uneven or just slightly different to each other which may look less consistent and less appealing. It’s certainly going to look less neat on the back but not everyone cares about that! It may also affect the tension of your work, which could also cause it to look more uneven.

Potential downsides with the sewing method

1 - Tension

Whether you are stitching English or Danish method you might find that keeping an even tension is more difficult with the sewing method than with stab and stitch.

I didn’t find this to be a problem but then I am used to stitching in hand and if you jump from the stab and stitch method with a hoop to the sewing method in hand that might be a bit much! You may find it easier to try stitching in hand with the stab and stitch method first before trying the sewing method.

2 - Increased thread twisting

Some cross stitchers find that their thread gets more easily twisted when using the sewing method. Again, I didn’t find this to be a problem when testing but I guess it was somewhat limited testing!

And of course you can untwist your thread as you go; I have 3 ways you can do this in How to Untwist Embroidery Thread, but if you do find you need to do this lots then that will likely slow you down and can be pretty frustrating.

3 - Splitting threads/fabric

When using the sewing method you might find that you more easily split the fabric or threads that are already in the holes. I was surprised how much I didn’t end up splitting the threads with the sewing method, but I did miss the hole and split the fabric a few times.

4 - Less neat stitches

This is the main reason why I don't use the sewing method; my stitches just don't look quite as neat. They definitely got neater after I practiced the technique a bit but still not as neat as I would like. I think this is because it’s harder to get the thread pulled all the way taut enough and lying flat against the fabric; it can be achieved with a little more care...but then it takes more time which defeats the purpose of this method!

Railroading with sewing method

I also like to railroad at least the top arm of my cross stitches to make them look neater and I wasn’t sure if this would be possible with the sewing method but it absolutely is!

It’s actually pretty easy, and although it will add time, it would with stab and stitch too.

Step by step pictures showing how to do cross stitch using the sewing method and railroading both arms of the cross stitch

*Click on the image to see a larger version

If railroading is a new term for you, and you want to find out how it can make your stitches neater then go and take a look at How to Railroad Cross Stitch.

5 - Hand cramp/pain

I found I needed to hold my fabric in a slightly different way to be able to make that slight fold in the fabric and to have my finger behind to guide the needle, and this made it more awkward to hold resulting in more pain and cramping in my hand. I am not sure if this would improve over time as I got more experienced with the technique, but other cross stitchers have reported the same problem.

Did I stitch faster with the sewing method?

Ok, here’s the bit you’ve all been waiting for…how much faster could I stitch with the sewing method?!

I’m not gonna lie…the results are disappointing.

3 heart motifs cross stitched with timings of between 7 mins and 9 mins 40 seconds versus sewing method and 7 mins 20 seconds with  stab and stitch

I stitched a heart motif of 46 stitches and with the stab and stitch method (without any railroading) it took me 7 minutes and 20 seconds.

I stitched a second heart using the sewing method, working from top left to bottom right, and it took me 9 minutes 40 seconds! So it actually took longer!

So I stitched a third heart with the sewing method, working from bottom right to top left, as I knew I was quicker this way, and it took me 7 minutes!

I could potentially get a little quicker with more practice, but not a whole lot and not anywhere close to twice as fast!

I guess I am just pretty fast with my stab and stitch. And I like it better so I really can’t find any reasons for me to switch away from that.

If you are slower with the stab and stitch method then you may find the sewing method gives you more improvement in speed than it did for me, and might be worth long as you are happy with the way your stitches are looking!

To sum this all up, the sewing method makes my stitches less neat, isn't really any quicker for me, and it ends up being less fun for me when I'm stitching, so it hasn't won me over.

But although I don’t love or use the sewing method I am all about giving you all the options so you can find what works best for you. You might love it…so try it out!

This is not the only method you can use to stitch faster…you can also use the 2 handed method but I’ll save that for another time!

Until next time... happy stitching!


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lisa matthews
lisa matthews
Dec 17, 2023

I would just like to say that I've been stitching for 45 years. I've always used the sewing method and have NEVER stitched in hand. I started with hoops and have used frames for the past 30 years. It has never been a problem. Lol My first frames were American Dream and my current ones are Omanik. And yes, I keep my fabric taut while stitching. Stitch tension is quite easy to maintain while keeping a consistent fabric tension, btw. Maybe this is a technique you should explore a bit deeper? There's more to it.

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